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Why are website designers giving us simpler and more stress-free user experience?

If you’ve already had a scroll through our site, then you’ll know that we are WordPress website builders who love nothing better than coding and designing our way through the cold winter nights and building some pretty decent websites along the way.

Something that we often get asked from our clients is whether they should have a custom built or Premium theme-based WordPress site. So, we thought it was high time to explain the differences between the two options, and why a custom-built site is probably the right move 80% of the time.

Defining moments

Before we delve into the murky realms of website coding, let’s start with the basic differences between Premium and custom built WordPress themes.

Theme-based WordPress sites are basically a set of page templates that you can choose from and which form the visual skeleton of your website. Each theme has different visuals and layouts which create a specific website look and function.

The beauty of a theme-based option is that you can find a template that is already built, which you can then download, replace the images and rework the content to suit your own branding. The template themes are flexible and are open to slight modifications, you can also can add plug-ins to build-up a more layered website.

Custom-built WordPress sites are basically built completely from scratch and have no set template that you need to work around. A custom design is a one-off theme, that is specifically created for that individual or company.

Crucially, they can look like theme-based templates, but all the various parts of the custom website are integrated in one go, to work seamlessly together. Kind of like the difference between using a pre-made cake mix or just getting the ingredients yourself and making your own Victoria sponge – working on the base always makes the cake taste better.

Dream me a dream

Ask a website designer what their dream question from any client is and it’d probably be ‘can I have a custom website build?’.

Why? Firstly, with a custom build we are free to generate a website from scratch that is unique and fully adapted to the client.  The sky is the limit with custom design. The opposite can be said with Premium, because you are limited to the configurated structures set up for the template. A bit like consigning yourself to playing in a box garden when you know there’s a whole field over the hedge.

A premium theme-based site can also turn into a coder’s worst nightmare, especially when things get a bit complicated. Although it can be simple to create a Premium theme-based site, any advanced site modifications or plug-ins that automatically update can run the risk of crashing your site or a producing a bug which will, at the very least, affect your websites functionality.

Premium theme-based sites typically have many layers of design and much more code. So when something goes wrong with a theme-based template it can feel like crawling through a coding jungle or trying to find a pebble in a desert. Sifting through streams of coding chains to find out why a site is bugging and then repairing the problem can often take longer than just custom building an entire site from scratch.

Template themed sites can also be much slower to load and have reduced page quality because of the additional coding structures and the way they are built. The speed at which your site loads has a detrimental effect for user experience and is even penalised by Google Search Ranking bots.

Tick Tock

Premium theme-based sites have their uses and are a great option for people who:

  • want a very simple site
  • have a tight budget or deadline
  • find a theme that is perfect for their website goals
  • want a theme that has built-in features such as animation (which take a long time to code)
  • are not planning to modify or evolve their site

Quite a few people also think that building a custom-built theme takes more time and money than a Premium theme. It’s true that when you first set up a Premium theme-based WordPress website it can be a lot quicker and cheaper, and will have your website singing and dancing on Google in no time.

But where this logic falls down is with the maintenance and general upkeep of your site. If you end up having a coding problem or want to turn your site into something more complex (i.e. turning it into an e-commerce platform or an interactive forum) it can often be more expensive and time costly to sort out than building a custom site in the first place.

In the end, the decision boils down to knowing what you want from your site and what you are prepared to invest. Once you’ve seen the light, you can then decide whether you need a quick and simple fix via the Premium route, or an integrated and long-lasting solution which would point you to door number 2, the custom WordPress build.

PSST! Did we mention our boundless love for all thing WordPress? If you want to have a chat about how we can help you sift through noise and build a sleek and functional website, we are a short phone call away or can be found pouring over our Apple Macs at Ziferblat Edge Street.

WordPress is arguably the most successful and influential blogging and website platform there is, and is estimated to power 14% of the world wide web today. A large part of its success is due to its rich set of features and its highly adaptable and powerful plugins.

For those of us who are still getting to grips with the mysterious digital realm of building blogs or websites, plugins are basically bits of software that can be added onto your page by uploading them.

Plugins tend to either extend or expand how your page functions and in many cases, provide a complete solution for the user, i.e. most of the background work is done by the plugin builders.

Plug me IN

‘Which WordPress Plugins should I be using?” has to be the most existential and googled WordPress user question out there.

So before jumping head first into frenzied google searches for Top 5 WordPress Plugins to use, the most logical thing to consider before setting off is whether you actually need one in the first place.

To answer this, ask yourself the following 4 things –

  1. Can the issue be solved without a plugin?
  2. Does the theme I’ve chosen have a built-in solution?
  3. Do I want to find a plugin to perform a specific task?
  4. Is what I’m trying to change or improve actually necessary?

If you’ve brushed the first two off with a no and answered the last two with a firm nod of the head, you are on the right path and do in fact need a WordPress plugin. Next step on the road to your plugin holy grail is to decide whether to use free or premium plugins.

To pay or not to pay

A large part of the WordPress community actually believe all plugins should be free. There are a lot of free WordPress plugins already out there which are great because they do what they say on the tin and, if you are strapped for cash or don’t believe in paying for plugins, are a more than viable option to solve your WordPress building woes. Some popular free plugins include: Contact Form 7, WordPress SEO, Google Analytics and WP Super Cache.

So then why part with your hard-earned coin when you can just upload something for sweet nothing? The two main reasons to air out your wallet when it comes to choosing the right WordPress plugin are –

  • Range – in some cases the issue you are trying to solve hasn’t been developed by charitable plugin builders and premium can be your only option.
  • Reliability – support teams from premium plugins actually work on issues reported by users, maintain security and compatibility with the latest WordPress version and ensure the plugin is compatible with other plugins you might also want to use on your site. This can also happen with free plugins but isn’t as widespread.
  • Saves time and effort – the support team works on issues flagged by users which saves time and effort trying to work them out yourself and means you don’t even need to manually monitor your plugins for vulnerabilities.

Don’t forget that after you pay for your initial premium plugin you usually need to pay extra for any major upgrades!

The final hurdle

In the end choosing between free or paid WordPress plugins depends on your budget, whether there is a free plugin for what you need, the complexity of your issue, your knowledge of plugin set up procedures and how much time and energy you are prepared to invest.

Now all that’s left for you to do is to find the specific plugin for your issue. If you know your stuff, go straight to the WordPress directory and have a good, long search. If you are a little bit wary of making the wrong decision and love expert advice then there are plenty of great bloggers out there that can help you choose the right one for you. Type in your specific issue and let the magic of the internet guide you to the right plugin for you.

PSST! The team @Bamboo Digital Manchester might be the genie to your lamp. We also create our own WordPress plugins!

Sara is a freelance writer based in Manchester. She owns the commercial and creative content company Fraiche Ink, focusing on think pieces and marketing content.